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President Barack Obama packed an upbeat job statistic for his visit to the Master Lock plant in Milwaukee.
"For the first time since 1990, American manufacturers are creating new jobs," the president said on Feb. 15, 2012, as he praised Master Lock for bringing jobs back from China.
"American manufacturers are hiring for the first time since 1990," Obama said in repeating the claim two days later at a Boeing plant in Washington state.
The remarks got wide media play.
The claim of recent growth in manufacturing employment rang true: Wisconsin has added manufacturing jobs at a modest pace the last two years, seeing growth in durable goods production -- things like electric machinery, manufacturing equipment and auto parts.
And Wisconsin’s economy is as reliant on manufacturing jobs as any state. Wisconsin and Indiana have been trading the top spot in that category, state officials said.
Wisconsin’s last sustained growth period was from 1991 to 1999, when the state added almost 80,000 manufacturing jobs, peaking at 597,000, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusted figures. The next decade was a bumpy ride down to about 425,000 jobs.
But what about the national picture, which was what Obama cited in his Master Lock visit?
Obama claimed the nation was experiencing the first uptick "since 1990."
But the nation experienced a sustained period of modest manufacturing growth deep into the 1990s, most of it under the watch of President Bill Clinton. He presided during the longest continuous economic expansion in U.S. history.
In fact, the nation’s manufacturing boat rose with that tide, for a time at least, ticking up in the middle part of that decade and peaking in 1997, federal employment statistics show.
None of this was news to the White House, whom we contacted after checking the president’s remarks against his speech text. They forwarded a blueprint by the White House’s economic advisers that says the growth is the best since "the late 1990s."
The reference was correct in the Milwaukee the speech text, too (the italics are ours):
"For the first time since the 1990s, American manufacturers are creating new jobs, which is good for companies up and down the supply chain. You’ve all heard enough about outsourcing. Well, more and more companies like Master Lock are now insourcing."
The White House said the president deviated from the text in Milwaukee, and it turns out he did the same thing in Washington state.
It may have been a misstatement, but it was what many news outlets focused on from his remarks, and what many at home heard as well.
The manufacturing uptick of the last two years is small – a 3 percent jump after a 35 percent drop the prior 12 years. Employment is still down compared to the start of Obama’s term. But the numbers have been in the plus column since January 2010.
So, in the end, the president got it wrong after he had it right.
And we’re rating what he said, not what he was supposed to say.
We rate the president’s claim False.
President Barack Obama, excerpts from White House transcript of remarks at Master Lock, Feb. 15, 2011
President Obama, White House video of Milwaukee remarks, (jobs remark at 9:00 mark) Feb. 15, 2012
Email interview with Caroline Hughes, White House spokeswoman, Feb. 15, 2012
Interview with Dennis Winters, chief labor economist, Department of Workforce Development, Feb. 20, 2012
Interview with John Dipko, spokesman, Department of Workforce Development, Feb. 20, 2012
Research help from Megan Barker, economist in manufacturing section of US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feb. 21, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, national manufacturing employment from Current Employment Statistics site, accessed Feb. 17, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin manufacturing employment history, accessed Feb. 17, 2012
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